The term “cauda equina syndrome” (CES) has been used to describe the signs and symptoms in patients with compressive neuropathy of multiple lumbar and sacral roots. This syndrome is well known as an indication for surgical intervention in treating lumbar spine disease, but relatively unknown as a postoperative complication following surgery for disease. In this study the author describes two cases of CES that occurred following uneventful lumbar spine procedures—one microdiscectomy and one decompressive laminectomy.
Preoperative, operative, and postoperative management is discussed and the relevant literature reviewed. One patient suffered perineal numbness and bowel and bladder difficulty following a decompressive laminectomy. Postoperative imaging studies were negative for residual lesion and the treatment goal pursued was partial long-term resolution of symptoms. The second patient had progressive numbness and weakness in the lower extremities. Results of urgent postoperative magnetic resonance imaging studies were inconclusive and repeated exploration was performed within hours of the initial procedure. The patient made a full recovery, although the intraoperative findings did not reveal a clear cause of the patient's symptoms.
Postoperative symptoms of partial or complete CES represent a medical emergency, especially if they are progressive. It is necessary to perform urgent postoperative imaging in patients, but the results are not always helpful. Surgical exploration is warranted if a mass lesion is demonstrated on imaging studies or if symptoms progress and the disease origin is not clear based on available information.